DERRY, N.H. — The two Democratic presidential hopefuls sparred Wednesday over whether Hillary Clinton is enough of a “progressive,” while she and Bernie Sanders both sought to manage expectations in a race that has now shifted to very different terrain.
With less than a week before the New Hampshire primary, and polls showing sizable leads here for Sanders, the Clinton team sought to emphasize the advantages that the senator from Vermont has as a next-door neighbor. Sanders’s camp countered that Clinton should be stronger in the Granite State, given her win here as a presidential candidate in 2008.
On the campaign trail, on Twitter and in a town hall broadcast Wednesday night by CNN, the biggest issue of the day was Sanders’s questioning of Clinton’s progressive credentials.
The exchange was sparked by a day-old jab from Sanders, who told reporters in Keene that she is a progressive “some days,” except when she “announces she is a moderate.”
Sanders elaborated on those views during the CNN broadcast, saying he admired Clinton’s work on children’s issues, among other things. But “there are other issues where I think she is just not a progressive,” Sanders told host Anderson Cooper.
“I do not know any progressive that has a super PAC and takes $15 million from Wall Street,” Sanders said. “That’s just not progressive.”
Sanders ticked off several other issues on which he saw Clinton falling short of the mark, including the Iraq War, which Clinton voted to authorize while a senator from New York, and the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which Clinton wavered on for months before announcing her opposition.
Sanders also pointed to a news report from the fall in which Clinton described herself as a “moderate.”
“I’m a progressive who likes to get things done,” Clinton countered at the CNN forum, at which she and Sanders appeared onstage separately.
She questioned Sanders’s attempt to be “the gatekeeper of who’s a progressive,” ticking off other Democrats, including President Obama, who she said would not meet his threshold.
“I’m not going to let that bother me,” Clinton said.
In response to a question from a rabbi, Clinton offered some insight into how she has dealt with difficult issues while appearing to allude to indiscretions by her husband, former president Bill Clinton.
“Everybody knows I have lived a very public life for the last 25 or so years,” Clinton said. “I’ve had to be in public, dealing with some very difficult issues.”
Clinton said she read the prodigal-son parable in the Bible.
“I read that parable. . . . That just became a lifeline for me,” she said.
Speaking at a campaign event earlier here, Clinton highlighted her work on progressive causes such as gay rights, women’s rights and defense of Social Security, and she called Sanders’s comments a “low blow.”
“So I hope we keep it on the issues because if it’s about our records, hey, I’m going to win by a landslide,” Clinton said.
The candidates will have a chance to engage more directly Thursday night at a hastily arranged debate to be broadcast by MSNBC. Sanders agreed to participate Wednesday morning.
On the stump Wednesday, Clinton sought to frame the race as a choice between one candidate with a record of accomplishments and another offering worthy but unachievable goals.
“There’s a lot of talk in this campaign between Senator Sanders and myself about whether voters will vote with their heads or their heart,” Clinton said. “Let me ask you to vote with both.”
Her wonky stump speech was still heavily laden with policy, but Clinton offered voters a more nuanced argument for her candidacy, focused on “heart.”
“Think about how we need to have more heart in America,” Clinton said. “More heart for those who are suffering, who are left behind and left out, more heart for working folks who feel like they are not getting ahead because the game is rigged against them.”
Sanders had a huge lead over Clinton — 61 percent to 32 percent — among likely New Hampshire voters in a poll released Wednesday by the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
The margin was larger than in recent polls, but it underscored both Clinton’s challenge in closing the gap and Sanders’s challenge in managing expectations. Sanders also received Secret Service protection Wednesday for the first time — an indication of his growing viability.
While Sanders’s team would certainly welcome a big win in New Hampshire, it was trying to tamp down expectations for that Wednesday.
At a late-afternoon news conference in Concord, Sanders reminded reporters of the Clinton family’s history in New Hampshire.
“Her husband ran for president here twice; she ran and won in 2008,” Sanders said, adding: “We expect a very difficult race. We take nothing for granted.”
Clinton aides said that the campaign’s strategy in New Hampshire is to narrow the gap with Sanders as much as possible. While they said that winning the state is unlikely, they hoped to force Sanders to leave a state where he has a clear advantage with only a narrow margin, calling into question his ability to compete in later primaries.
An influx of support from staffers in Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters began arriving in New Hampshire in recent days to bolster the campaign’s ground game. Even before votes were cast in Iowa, staff in New Hampshire began rallying hundreds of volunteers over the weekend to begin get-out-the-vote activities. More than 500 volunteers hit the ground in Nashua on Saturday. Hundreds more fanned out in Manchester on Sunday.
Echoing the sentiments of many of her boosters, Clinton referred to the New Hampshire contest as taking place in Sanders’s “back yard.”
“New Hampshire always favors neighbors, which I think is neighborly,” she quipped.
She dismissed the suggestions of some “pundits” that she should move on to other states.
“I have to tell you, I just could not ever skip New Hampshire,” she said.
Both candidates also sought Wednesday to highlight issues that they think play to their strengths.
Sanders’s news conference in Concord focused on his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free-trade agreement being championed by President Obama. Clinton announced her opposition to the deal long after Sanders and has been more pro-trade than Sanders throughout her career, including as a senator from New York.
Clinton, meanwhile, has already appeared twice this week — including in Derry on Wednesday morning — with former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, who have endorsed her based on her support for tougher gun laws.
Clinton said little about Sanders’s record on guns Wednesday, but she has repeatedly said that he is not tough enough on the issue, citing several votes, including one in 2005 to grant legal immunity to gun dealers and manufacturers when their products are used in crimes.
While Clinton touted her narrow victory in Iowa, the Sanders camp continued to refer to it as “a tie” Wednesday, even as Sanders acknowledged that Clinton would probably get a couple more national delegates out of the process — an estimated 22 to his 20.
Echoing an assessment by his campaign manager a day before, Sanders said that his team was reviewing the results and could not be certain who actually fared better, given the arcane nature of the state’s caucus rules.
“To tell you the truth, the Iowa caucus is so complicated it’s not 100 percent sure we didn’t win it,” Sanders said during an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show.